Nepal wakes up early.
Or early by most Western standards, anyways. It’s 6:23 a.m. and the red cobblestone streets of Bhaktapur – a medieval municipality east of Kathmandu where I’m spending the next few days – are bustling with activity. The taxi honks that populate the streets of the country’s capital are absent here, but the sound of motorbikes and dog barks allude no one or no place.
The smell of cooking oil is drifting up three levels from the street. Despite the windows being closed, its scent is filling my guesthouse room, where I sit on the bed, face lit only by the screen of my netbook. Behind me, the curtain is growing brighter by the minute, someone pressing the brightness button on the day at hand. Down below, fruit carts hobble over uneven brick, and a vegetable vendor sells to early passersby. The fish monger has yet to arrive, and for a few more moments, the area in front of his table remains free from the slippery blood slick that almost claimed my grace yesterday.
It’s almost winter, and days are short in the Kathmandu Valley. The sun is setting at around 5:30 p.m., blanketing both Kathmandu and Bhaktapur in a thick darkness. In Canada after dusk, it doesn’t get dark, not truly. Our streetlights, houselights, shop lights, business lights, all of the lights (as one may say) remain on, sometimes, absurdly, throughout the night. I never realized how much electricity impacted my perception of the night-time landscape.
Not so, in Nepal.
Rolling power outages around the city mean many businesses are lit by candlelight or, like the vegetable vendor across the street, a single light bulb once darkness falls. The effort of that small bit of electricity alone is accompanied by the churning and rumbling of a generator. I take our unprejudiced, unlimited access to hydro, both day and night, completely for granted.
On my first night in Bhaktapur, I arranged to have supper with a new friend at 6 p.m. We choose to meet in front of one of the temples in the town’s Durbar Square, a main gathering point where we had both been earlier that day. I was exploring a local paper factory (more to come) when night fell, and geographic disorientation took heed. All the identifying marks you subconsciously and consciously bookmark disappear as soon as it gets dark. That momo seller on the corner, the craft tables, the King Curd (a Bhaktapur specialty…like a tangy cottage cheese made with buffalo milk. So yummy) shop – all had shut their doors for the day, taking a magic eraser to my mental map.
I found my way eventually, carrying my headlamp for both directional purposes and to make myself known to the motorbikers who still roamed the streets.
Outside the heritage portion of Bhaktapur (a portion of about 12,000 Newari-style homes), activity remained a little more vibrant. In the storefronts that were still open, men and woman huddled around the single light source, sitting on the stairs or on the floor, talking or playing chess. I guess you get used to the inevitable darkness of night as a guest at the dinner table.
I’m not sure if it’s because the power outages and early evenings limit work from progressing past the supper time mark (I have a feeling it does not, because Nepalese people are some of the hardest workers I’ve ever met), but it seems like because of, or in spite of it, they embrace every little bit of daylight. Early evening and a lack of power can dictate your schedule, and it feels natural to go to sleep a few hours after dusk, waking up with the sun and the literal rooster crows.
PS: I am in the midst of attempting to write about 10 million blog posts summarizing the incredible experience that was my Everest Base Camp trek. In the meantime, I will be continuing to blog about other things, with trekking posts hopefully scattered throughout.